Monday, February 18, 2013

Avian Film Studies

Movies lie!! 

More specifically, they lie regarding birds.  For instance, I was taught at a young age that Great Horned Owls are evil by the wonderful animated film Rock-a-Doodle.  This is of course untrue. 
 Only Tawny Owls, such as the very wet Peabody above, are evil…small, but evil (kidding).

Movies and television use birds and bird calls to help instantly set the stage or mood for a scene.  Need to establish that the protagonist is stranded in the jungle?  Use the call of the Laughing Kookaburra,  even if the movie is set in Africa or Asia, rather than Australia. 
 Chadder, a Laughing Kookaburra who resides at the World Bird Sanctuary.  You may be lucky enough to hear him call when you stroll down the path at WBS
A sense of foreboding is instantly created with the haunting call of a crow or the melodious hoot of an owl. 

Perhaps the most famous bird call is that of the Red-tailed Hawk.  Wait, you might be thinking, surely that mighty keee-yah screech of the Bald Eagle is more recognizable?  Well, yes that keee-yah is world famous, and a great way to establish a sense of wilderness, might, or ferocity in a scene.  That call however is not the cry of our national symbol, but the call of the often-overlooked Red-tailed Hawk
Sequoia, a Red-tailed Hawk who can be viewed in the weathering area just beyond WBS 's Wildlife Hospital
The call of the Bald Eagle  is more of a high pitched cackling keh-keh-keh, which may be terrifying when you are holding the bird for a program, but just doesn’t have the same mystique as the Red-tail’s call. 
Lewis the Bald Eagle,  a member of our free flying eagles team
So long ago in Hollywood, the Red-tail call was used and over time it has been adapted and substituted for any number of birds including other species of hawks, crows, ravens, falcons and even vampires in the British television series Being Human (of course vampires are not birds, but it is one of my favorite effects in the show).

Bird voices not only show up in the wrong locations, but bird species as well.  Remember that scene in The Proposal where the eagle swoops down and grabs the dog?  You might have thought that that particular eagle looked a little strange and you would be correct.  North America is home to two species of eagle, the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle.

Duncan, a Wedge-tailed Eagle 
That particular bird in the movie is neither.  It is in fact a Wedge-tailed Eagle, a native of Australia.  If you have visited the World Bird Sanctuary you may have seen Duncan our resident Wedge-tail (and the first Wedge-tailed Eagle hatched in captivity in the Western Hemisphere), who just so happens to be the sibling of the two Wedge-tailed Eagles in the film, Sydney and Darwin.  The film uses Wedge-tailed Eagles not because of a subplot about vacationing eagles, but because it is illegal in the United States to use a native bird species for profit purposes. 
Othello, an African Pied Crow and an audience member demonstrate how to recycle.  Photo courtesy of BaronBoston Photo
This also explains why the Windex crows look nothing like the crows you might see in your backyard. They are African Pied Crows and if you have been to one of WBS’s bird shows at zoos, you may recognize them as our feathered recycling friends.
Lenore, a White-necked Raven 
Sometimes an effort is made to disguise the non-natives.  White-necked ravens are used to fill in for the native Common raven, but their necks are either powdered black or computer graphics are used.  The dead giveaway is the beak.  White-necked ravens have a larger, rounder beak that ends in a small white tip.  Common Ravens have a beak that is narrower and completely black, more similar to that of a crow.
Poe, a Common Raven, can be seen in his enclosure on the path just beyond the wildlife hospital 
There are of course countless other examples, and it is not just birds that are misrepresented in Hollywood.  Come visit World Bird Sanctuary and you’ll be surprised how many of our residents look familiar, and how many don’t look or sound the way you always thought they would.  Most importantly you will realize that no matter what The Rescuers: Down Under leads you to believe, you cannot ride on the back of a Golden Eagle…and not just because it would be illegal.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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